Writers at the height of their powers are no longer learners. They should aspire to write only real stories. A real story makes the writer a learner again, each well-written tale teaches him something, makes him wonder how he wrote it, where it came from. Writing a real story is like riding a tiger. Or a mad bull. Or something. No sane person mounts tigers or mad bulls. Writers do. When you mount one such you must stay on for the course, until it is completely mastered. Get off halfway and it mauls you, or gores you, or something. A half-written tale that does not haunt a writer is no real tale. If it does not consume every idle hour, if it does not go, write me! write me! it is make-work. If it is forgotten as soon as it is abandoned, it was pap all along, food for babies, practice for learners.
A Real Story sinks her talons into her writer and does not let him go. She throws a lariat around his neck and hauls him in. The writer loses weight, groans in his sleep… and stays the course. He stirs the wok of his fiction so assiduously, it has the tang of truth. He writes his blood into the pages, braids his spirit into the characters. He lends heart, sprinkles tears, strains guts… a Real Story is full of holes that can only be filled with broken pieces of the writer’s life. Or bleeding tracts of his imagination. Or purloined gems from the treasury of his life. A Real Story makes a hermit of a writer, offending his friends and sentencing him to the term of imprisonment that it takes to write her. She costs him money, free beers, nights out… But when the tale is done, she comes alive. She lies word-perfect on the desk, trembling with gratitude. Her beauty betrays no sign of the blood and sweat that went into her creation. She is pitch-perfect to the ear, and she sinks into the hearts of her readers with the ease of truth. The Real Story reads as miraculously as the physiognomy of aquarium fish that you can watch forever. Yet, to work that miracle, the exhausted writer at the height of his powers will have seen the gates of Heaven or of Hell and he will swear, never again.
Until the next real story comes along.